IT'S EVERY PARTY RENTAL operator's nightmare: Your top clients love your top salesperson — and when that sales-person leaves you for another party rental company, the clients follow.
What are the best ways to keep stellar salespeople true to you? Party rental operators use a wide variety of strategies.
Rita Bruns, owner of Atlanta-based Classic Tents & Events, knows the importance of a great salesperson firsthand. “When I bought the business two years ago, I had lots of tents and equipment, but the biggest asset was the salesperson,” she says. “I had to have her.”
Bruns treats her star salesperson with respect: “She has my full support, no matter what happens,” she says. But the solid relationship with her salesperson illustrates an important element in maintaining loyalty: The employee must understand and agree with the company's mission. Bruns says, “Her first priority is customer service; therefore, we're both on the same track.”
Top salespeople usually want to be identified with the top companies. Pedersen's Rentals of Vancouver, British Columbia, won a strong salesperson away from a competitor thanks in part to the strong reputation of the company, according to president Bill Pedersen.
“Our people are a little cocky,” he says. “They know they're with the best; they're the important ones in town.”
Boots Daugherty, owner of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Affordable Tents & Special Events, makes his salesperson think twice before defecting to a competitor by having him sign a no-compete agreement — binding for one year for competitors within a specified area — at the time of hire.
Daugherty believes that the agreement is just as much a carrot as a stick. “If this is addressed as a positive employment situation, not a negative, then it's positive for both parties.” He will be sweetening the pot soon by rolling out a profit-sharing program.
The siren song for salespeople is compensation, according to Charlie Feldbaum, head of Minneapolis-based Apres Party and Tent Rentals. “If it isn't about money, then it's not a true salesperson.” At Apres, top salespeople receive “a high base, an attractive commission plan and a bonus program,” he notes.
But salespeople at Apres are valuable themselves, Feldbaum says. “They are good hires to start with,” he notes. “They love what they do.”
Further, Apres believes in promoting from within, so employees believe they have a future with the company. An assistant warehouse manager at Apres aspires to a sales position one day. “He says, ‘I will be looking at situations from both sides of the fence; I'll know what I can promise and what I can't,’” Feldbaum says.
The staff at Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Baker Party Rentals enjoys a smorgasbord of benefits to woo their loyalty, including paid vacations, fully paid health insurance premiums and a 401(k) retirement plan. To boost employee longevity, the employer's contribution to the 401(k) rises as the employee's tenure with the company lengthens.
But co-owner Tom Mantyla thinks that when it comes to retaining salespeople, little perks can be as valuable as big ones. “What does the person you're dealing with want?” he asks. “We have one salesperson who has been approached by my competitors on occasion. But she only wants to work part-time, and we're around the corner from her house; she doesn't have to drive to get here. If you can focus on where the people are in their realm of need and come pretty close to that, they probably will be pretty loyal.”
EMPOWERMENT TO THE PEOPLE
The right environment goes a long way in helping people stay. “We work hard to keep the atmosphere here fun; we joke a lot,” says Jane Gillespie, one of the owners of Woburn, Mass.-based Festive Occasions. Further, “We empower our salespeople. They feel they are in charge of their customers.”
She also keeps an eye on what the competition is offering. “We try to pay the going wage,” she says. “If they are thinking about leaving for that reason, we want to know that.”
It helps if the salespeople believe that the company stands behind them. “When they need support for an event — special pricing, or equipment we don't have — we back them up with what they need,” notes Philip Silverman, owner of Raphael's Party Rentals, San Diego. “When they've got personal issues, we take care of them.” He has the proof to back up his approach: “We have never lost a good salesperson; no one has ever left me to go to another party rental company.”
RESOURCES: Affordable Tents & Special Events, 800/414-8368; Apres Party and Tent Rentals, 952/942-3399; Baker Party Rentals, 714/545-4667; Classic Tents & Events, 770/449-1010; Festive Occasions, 781/933-8777; Pedersen's Rentals, 604/324-7368; Raphael's Party Rentals, 858/689-7368
A recent study from insurance firm MetLife says that despite the wave of layoffs, employers still view retention as their most important benefits-related priority. Coming in second: controlling costs, so low-cost benefits will be on the rise.
What are low-cost ways to keep good salespeople true to you? Some ideas:
Offer training. It improves skills and strengthens an employee's commitment to the company.
Offer recognition. Celebrate employees' successes with plaques, gift certificates, parties, time off.
Give employees something new to do; they will find the challenge stimulating and will broaden their skill base.
Back employees up, so they feel that the company is committed to them.
Make sure the company's mission statement is clearly understood by employees and that they align themselves with it.